Be the 3x personable engineer not the 10x a**hole

Author’s note: Special thanks to Brian Boates, Abeer Agrawal, Kelly Westbrooks, Steve Mardenfeld and Sandeep Kachru for their patience with me doing the latter.

For a mock ML system design interview, I was asked to design a system that detects account takeovers (ATO).

Child’s play. Clarify definition. Establish timeline and requirements. Identify label and metrics. Explore patterns of behavior and experiment with rules or heuristics. Generate features and prototype a model-based workflow. Introduce friction for suspected bad actors. Coordinate policy and playbook for inbound inquiries. Close the feedback loop.

It’s clear by now I know more than my interviewer. I smiled at my own technical brilliance. I paused. Something doesn’t feel right. Then it hit me. If I was the interviewer, I would have rated myself a ‘no hire’. The idea was to work together on a solution. Instead I used it as an opportunity to show off.

At interviews, I would write at the top of my notepad the word CALM. After this experience, I would write below that, READ THE ROOM.

I remember telling my therapist how I model myself after a sprinter, who runs at an angle so steep they’re almost falling. My therapist countered by asking, what if you run so hard that you injure yourself and can’t run anymore? Perhaps the better model is to be the sprinter who is aware of every muscle in their body, who is in full control of the situation.

After all, careers are long and there will be many races. Maybe later on you want to try running marathons instead, or maybe hurdles.

He continued. My advice to you is to use anger as a signal. If you use anger as fuel, you can end up burning yourself.